White House Rejects Johnson’s Demand for Direct Talks With Biden

White House Rejects Johnson’s Demand for Direct Talks With Biden

Jack Gruber/USA Today

Speaker Mike Johnson insisted Wednesday that he won’t be rushed or pressured into holding a vote on the $95.3 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan that was passed by the Senate Tuesday morning.

“The Republican-led House will not be jammed or forced into passing a foreign aid bill that was opposed by most Republican senators and does nothing to secure our own border,” Johnson told reporters.

Republicans last week rejected a bipartisan border deal negotiated in the Senate, which then stripped the border provisions from its supplemental spending package and passed the foreign assistance portion on a strong bipartisan basis.

Johnson has dismissed that legislation as well, arguing that the border must be addressed first. He said Wednesday that he has been asking for direct talks with President Joe Biden. “That meeting has not been granted,” Johnson said, “and I’m going to continue to insist on that because there are very serious issues that need to be addressed and if the speaker of the House can’t meet with the president of the United States, that’s a problem.”

Unsurprisingly, the White House sees it differently. It dismissed Johnson’s demand and said it would look to keep pressing the speaker for a vote rather than a meeting.

“What is there to negotiate? Really? Truly? What is the one-on-one negotiation about when he’s been presented with exactly what he asked for? So, he’s negotiating with himself. He’s killing bills on his own,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at her daily press briefing. Jean-Pierre reiterated the president’s position that if Johnson allowed the bill to come up for a floor vote it would pass with bipartisan support.

At the press briefing, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan pushed back on the idea put forth by former president Donald Trump, and embraced by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, that the foreign aid should be structured as a loan. Trump has opposed both the Senate border deal and the foreign aid plans. Sullivan responded by telling reporters that, while there can be a place for loans as assistance to other countries, it doesn’t make sense for the current national security supplemental bill.

“Try telling a Palestinian mother in Gaza that, you know, to get a piece of medicine, they have to take out a loan,” he said.

And, he argued, structuring aid to Ukraine as a loan would only add to the country’s economic burden at a time when it is fighting for its survival against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion. “Talking about loans as opposed to providing the necessary infusion of cash is only going to make the economic problems of that country worse at a time we are trying to make them better, because a stronger, more stable, more secure Ukraine is in the fundamental national security interest of the United States,” he said, adding a similar argument for aid meant to ensure Israel’s security.

What’s next: The aid package is stalled, at least for now, but lawmakers who support funding for Ukraine are still working on a long-shot effort called a discharge petition to force a floor vote on the bill. House Republicans, meanwhile, are reportedly considering attaching some of their preferred border policies to the legislation and sending it back to the Senate. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican and co-chair of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, told reporters that the plan could be unveiled soon. “Stay tuned in the next 24 hours, I think you’ll see something that I think will be bipartisan,” he said, according to Politico.

The House could also look to break up the Senate bill and vote on it in parts.

“It’s increasingly clear the new speaker has no clear strategy for what happens next as the aid package that was approved by an overwhelming majority of senators this week falls into serious jeopardy,” write Lisa Mascaro and Stephen Groves of the Associated Press.

The House is also set to leave for its Presidents; Day recess, and when lawmakers return at the end of the month they will have just days to avoid a partial government shutdown.

Why it matters: “The slow-walk of U.S. aid to an ally during the largest ground war in Europe since World War II shows how far Republicans have retreated from overseas leadership in line with Trump,” Mascaro and Groves say. “While Johnson has said he personally supports aid for Ukraine, he leads a far-right majority that is more closely aligned with Trump's isolationist ideology and, increasingly, a hands-off approach to Putin's aggression.”